Adobe is watching me!Ok, so maybe I left the curtain open for them just a little. Yesterday, I got an email from the Adobe user experience team asking me to participate in a month-long survey during which they'll monitor how I use Adobe products and features on my work PC. Now, I'm usually just paranoid enough to avoid this sort of thing, but the research scientist in me was intrigued.
I doubt I'll ever have any real clue what the tracking software is doing, but what's interesting here is the increasing trend of usability research outside of the laboratory. It makes sense to study people in their natural "habitats", and you can't really bring a professional into the lab, sit them in front of Photoshop, say "draw something", and expect to learn much.
Of course, there are tradeoffs. This kind of testing can only tell how I use the options I'm given, and if Adobe's interfaces were junk to begin with, they'd just be polishing trash. Personally, I'll give Adobe more credit than that, and assume that this is part of a much larger process. Even upgrading to Creative Suite 2, it's clear how much work has gone into analyzing the way in which, for example, Photoshop features are used.
The really exciting part is just how accessible this kind of tracking is becoming. When I was a graduate student, usability testing involved lasers and special helmets and hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Was it cool? Yes. Still, it didn't help the average product, software, or website designer. We're getting to a point where usability analytics are going to become as commonplace as web and search analytics, and it'll be interesting to see where the field goes as it gets farther from the laboratory.
Update: Well, so much for that experiment. After I installed the ClickStream software, it started intercepting Dreamweaver keystrokes, bogging down my machine (DuoCore with only two programs running) and blocking me from clicking on tabs or changing windows. It's now uninstalled and back to normal. Note to Adobe: Don't improve your next-generation user experience by making the current one miserable.
Rather than hijacking your computer, why don't they invite you to work in their facilities, using a machine setup with what you want. That way, they can really see what you are doing?
Ok, that is extreme, but Gillette does it with deodorant, literally having people come in and sweat in a lab outside of Boston.
Of course I would be paranoid of them capturing anything else I am doing on my PC... ;)
Gillette's R&D costs are incredible but I like that idea. In any event, I'm intrigued by the idea of "embedded usability testing," but the execution is horrible, of course.
Well, having an Adobe product eat up RAM, freeze your computer/browser, and generally be bloated is... um... not unexpected.
Dr. Pete· Thursday, January 18
GE was at World Usability Day in the fall and talked about their testing process, and it's pretty amazing. They start up to 1-2 years before the product is developed, do pre-production testing, have a huge test kitchen onsite, videotape people in their homes, and then go shadow people while they use the products in their own homes. What's more, the customers seemed to love it; it really demonstrated to them that GE cared what they thought.
Kevin· Monday, February 5
I don't know if the misspelling of "ClickStream" as "ClickSteam" in your update was unintentional, but I took it as a reference to Valve Software's Steam (www.steampowered.com) platform as a reference to poorly designed consumer data gathering platforms. Steam has a less than stellar reputation among the gaming community, many of whom find Steam to be bloatware and invasive. Basically, you end up having to be on the internet in order to play single player games that require Steam, so that they can supposedly verify the application. They also shove surveys at you constantly which gather a frightening amount of information from your computer and send it back to Valve headquarters. Imagine having to log on to MSN before Windows will start. Or imagine having to connect to Adobe servers before Photoshop will run.
Consumers are easy to goad though. Bah. Line up the cattle through a different gate and they'll funnel through the same.
Dr. Pete· Tuesday, February 6
Whoops; no, that was just a typo. I'm not surprised, though, that these tracking companies would get a bad rep on their first few efforts. I'd love to have this kind of data about users of my client's sites, but if you're going to install invasive software, you've got to work all the kinks out, as you're already going in with a low trust quotient.